A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Master's in Education Application Essay

February 25, 2011

Dear Readers:

My first attempt at this essay attempt felt completely wrong and left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, so I ran it by my "editing board" for confirmation. Thankfully, my editors mercifully savaged it before I made the foolish mistake to send such a non-professional product forward. My editing board spent over 3 hours marking up my failed effort, and I have in my possession their carefully thought out suggestions, written in a sea of red ink, but I decided I needed to try again on my own before I reviewed their comments. As Tiresias revealed to Odysseus, who had traveled through the flames of Hades in search of a way home, "the destination is not the important thing, the journey is what really matters." Writing for me has always been about working through problems, and in the process, coming to deeper understandings.

Most people are either too smart or too proud to revewal their failed attempts, but I felt it might fascinate followers of this blog to pull back the curtain and reveal how I work through difficult problems as I write what may possibly be the most important thing I have ever written. Tonight, I was explaining to my mom how I had constructed a tripartite framework, wrapped in a thesis and conclusion. 3 questions go into the tripartite framework: why education? why special education? and why the *** program? My thesis and conclusion, which bind together my three questions, involves how teachers prepare students for the future by passing on disciplines and habits of learning. Using this framework, I am developing each section as if I were weaving a tapestry of thought. While the assembling the frame and weaving the mental fabric is taking far longer to craft than I had anticipated, my stomach feels better today..

When I was talking with my mom over the phone today, she appreciated my sense of humor when I joked that my failed attempt was classic LD writing. I am truly the poster child for neuro-plasticity!

Very truly yours,

***Reset button hit 2/23/2011, 2/25/2011

My Journey in Education 

By Daniel Kurland

February 28, 2011

[T]he eye of the mind, of which the object is truth, is the work of discipline and habit.1 (John  M.Newman)

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.2 (Buckminster Fuller)


Driven by a moral obligation to future generations, teachers have traditionally passed on disciplines and habits of learning hoping to prepare students for the future. Teachers prepare young minds for learning by teaching “habits of mind,”3 both explicitly through direct instruction, and implicitly in the structuring of class routines. Teachers make learning disciplines both relevant and accessible by “chunking” instructional tasks, by differentiating tasks according to learning styles and levels of thinking, and through flexible grouping decisions, i.e., through instructional matching. With so many students entering classrooms unequipped with proper habits of mind, frustrated by significant gaps in core learning skills, the demand for teachers with expertise in planning for differentiated instruction is on the rise. Given the complexity of teaching, I recognize the value of professional collaboration, and feel I owe it to my profession and my students to pursue a Master of Education degree through ***'s program. Furthermore, a K-12 special education endorsement added to my license would enhance my value to any collaborative learning team.

A Calling:

One worrisome trend involves what historians, citing the classic sociological study, Middletown, have called “the velocity of change.” At the dawn of the 20th century, Robert and Helen Lynd observed shocks to average citizens caused by the sheer “velocity and direction of social change,”4 as our nation shifted from an agricultural to an industrial economy. At the dawn of the 21st century, Ray Kurzweil is warning that change is now accelerating. Kurzweil argues that computer technology is poised to uproot traditional roles in surprising ways over the next two decades.5  In a recent three day challenge, IBM's Watson computer "trounced" two returning champions in the game show “Jeopardy!” in a competition involving natural language processing and intelligence.6 Likewise, Scientific American recently reported about Adam, a robot scientist that creates, tests, and revises hypotheses through experimentation; remarkably, Adam generates and tests working theories just like a real scientist, but exponentially faster.7 John A. Van de Walle, in Elementary School Mathematics, recommended that calculators replace most pencil-and-paper computation “since traditional reasons for teaching pencil-and-paper computation, especially with numbers involving more than two or three digits, have all but evaporated.”8  In 1967, at a conference in Berkeley, California, Louis Fein, an engineer who trained at Stanford University, posed essentially the same question: how should curricula change in a “rapidly and radically changing society?”9

Another worrisome trend, more specific to education, is the growing percentage of students suffering from “learning disabilities.” Jane M. Healy, Ph.d., observes in her best-selling book, Endangered Minds:

Corporations run writing courses for budding executives, universities remediate basic skills, secondary schools lower standards, and elementary schools add more “learning disability” classes. Meanwhile, bureaucrats and educational planners ignore the kernal problem and tout curriculum and methods devised for previous generations. Bigger doses of “chalk and talk” are weapons of choice against flagging attention, declines in reading comprehension, and superficial reasoning across the academic spectrum. But old methods are not working because young brains have not been shaped around language as a quintessential tool for analytic thinking.10 (Healy, p. 86)
 Dr. Healy raises many provocative questions. Here are just a few. To what degree are subtle but pervasive changes in how children process language, combined with inappropriate expectations of student readiness, contributing to rising numbers of overwhelmed learners? To what extent are inappropriate teaching methods, or more broadly, the climate of education, contributing to an epidemic of “faulty wiring” in young brains? In Conscious Classroom Management, Rick Smith offers a simple way teachers can accommodate children who struggle with language: speak more slowly, and repeat more often.11

While teachers cannot solve all of society’s problem, teachers can significantly impact lives by offering structure. Teachers can prepare young minds by teaching habits of mind, both explicitly through direct instruction, and implicitly in how class routines are structured. Learning disciplines can also be taught in ways more appropriate to individual learning needs, i.e., differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction involves a shift from a 20th century production line mindset, to a more tailored 21st century approach to education. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning can serve as a template for developing or assembling differentiated learning components, but it takes a highly skilled practitioner, collaborating with a strong team, to gracefully perform the instructional matching dance. My decision to pursue a M.Ed. degree and desire to earn a K-12 special education endorsement through ***’s program reflects my recognition that professional collaboration and development is vital.

Making Education More Relevant and Attainable:

To what extent can improved habits literally “rewire” brains, making academic success more relevant and attainable? Frameworks for developing instructional routines and habits, such as The Daily 5 (Gail Boushey and Joan Moser),12 are noteworthy efforts to address some of the issues raised by Dr. Healy and others. In The Daily 5, readers learn to read, not by doing worksheets, but through five authentic daily routines: reading to self, reading to others, listening to reading, word work, and writing. Teaching good reading habits prepares students to later read to learn, which is why reading is considered a core learning discipline. Plus, as the two sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, frequently remind us, reading is fun!

In Smart Moves, Carla Hannaford, Ph.d., questions the “arbitrary and non-pathological” labels used to describe a broad array of  “specific learning difficulties.” Based on her experience as a neurobiologist and special education teacher, Dr. Hannaford recommends that professionals adopt an alternative, more respectful umbrella label, SOSOH: Stressed Out, Survival-Oriented Humans13 (Hannaford, pp. 332-333):
What do I mean by stressed out, survival-oriented? I am referring to non-integrated, lopsided brain functioning, a tendency to operate reflexively and / or reactively from survival centers in the brain stem and the sympathetic nervous system. How does stress fit into the picture? Stress from various environmental, developmental, family and social influences is a trigger setting off events in the nervous system that produce and regulate survival-oriented behavior. I believe that chronic exposure to stress inhibits full brain development.14 (Hannaford, p. 333)
 Dr. Hannaford’s diagram, entitled What Inhibits Learning, illustrates how a number of stressful factors can disrupt brain structures deeply rooted in our bodies and our evolutionary past.15  One prescription offered by Dr. Hannaford is called Brain Gym, a system of integrated movements designed to wake up, connect, and reintegrate different mind/body systems. Dr. Hannaford contends that Brain Gym exercises, performed for short intervals as a daily habit, can improve cognitive function dramatically. Where I integrate Brain Gym exercises is in transition, both before and after students do long periods of seat work.

Good habits can be consciously woven into every routine and learning discipline. Take persistence, for example, which is vital to problem solving in any discipline. Mathematics is “a discipline concerned with thinking, sense making, and a search for patterns and regularities”16 (Van de Walle, p. 44) Math Investigations is a program that emphasizes “nonroutine problems,”17 where students solve multi-step problems in ways that help students develop concept understandings, versus performing rote computations. Using “write-to-learn” procedures, students are challenged to describe how they solve problems, plus represent their thinking, often pictorially. Teachers celebrate invented procedures instead of discouraging them. Likewise, Lucy Calkins’s writers workshop format invites beginning writers to use invented spelling to stretch out sounds, instead of relying on adults to solve their spelling problems. When young writers are challenged to add details to drawings, add words to pictures, and write sentences, they build stamina. Similarly, reading stamina is one of the first habits developed in The Daily 5, since stamina is a precondition for independent learning. In Responsive Classroom, healthy social and emotional habits are developed through consistent routines. Responsive Classroom routines have been linked to improved academic performance.18 “Learned helplessness,” on the other hand, reflects a problematic lack of structure. Consistent routines reduce stress and encourage independent learning behaviors, because students know what to do.

Teaming Up To Improve Chances For Success:

When I recently collaborated with S, the lead Kindergarten teacher, and the rest of our Collaborative Learning Team at ***, I was able to successfully launch a Kindergarten class as a long-term sub, despite never having worked extensively with that age group. We connected because of shared beliefs about education and our deep level of commitment to our students. That made respectful collaboration possible. I accepted direction because my singular focus was to help students become confident, independent learners, and everybody realized that. Given S’s 17 years of experience, she understood that there would be a learning curve, and wasted little time in introducing me to ***, the Title I Math Specialist, and ***, the Title I Reading Specialist, who were instrumental in helping me launch routines for math and language arts. I was also invited to participate in a weekly Daily 5 class with my team, which led to many productive conversations about how to set up literacy stations. Together, everybody achieves more!

Today, when I compare classrooms, I examine the ratio of teacher talk to student talk, whether room layouts encourage or discourage collaboration, whether questions are mostly open-ended or closed, the pace and chunking of lessons, how students transition from one activity to another, how teachers use wait time, tonality, and non-verbal cues, plus a whole host of other details. Many of these details, I learned about the hard way, while teaching in classes where entire populations entered my classroom wired for stress and overwhelm, unequipped with essential habits of mind, frustrated by gaps in core understandings. Having learned these lessons without the benefit of student teaching experience, I have often wondered, how much further along I would be with student teaching experience?

Hoping to master disciplines and habits of the most effective teachers, I have a number of specific goals for my student teaching experience:

      1. Perfect my classroom management system.
      2. Master a variety of literacy and math assessment strategies.
      3. Master a variety of behavioral assessments.
      4. Develop a repertoire of go-to strategies for dealing with difficult students.
      5. Develop a repertoire of behavior plans.
      6. Develop a repertoire of remediation strategies.
      7. Assemble a standards correlated lesson bank.
      8. Develop a repertoire of lesson modification strategies.
      9. Become a master collaborator.
      10. Develop new professional relationships for continued collaboration.
    Just as students need teachers who are sensitive to their unique learning needs, it helps to have supportive coaches who can appreciate the learning curve involved in becoming a master teacher. I need coaches who will correct me when I need correction, direct me when I need direction, but who will avoid micromanaging me. My goal is to master the disciplines and habits of teaching so that I can pass on the disciplines and habits of learning, and thus help prepare students for the future.
    The ultimate goals of education are human happiness and the welfare of society. Its products are good men and good citizens.19 (Max Weismann)

    Given the acceleration of technological change, nobody can foresee exactly which academic disciplines will best prepare students for the future, but history has left important clues. There is a time-honored tradition dating back to Socrates, elaborated on by Cardinal John Henry Newman in the 19th century, advocated by Mortimer Adler in the 20th century, which still continues today. In passing on the disciplines and habits of learning, teachers can help students prepare themselves for a wave of coming uncertainty. With the demand for teachers with expertise in planning for differentiated instruction on the rise, I seek to prepare myself so that I can help prepare others for the rigors of academic learning. I seek to hitch my wagon to a star, but first I could use a little guidance. That is why I seek acceptance to ***’s program, why I hope to earn a M.Ed., and why I hope to add a K-12 endorsement in special education to my license.

    1     Newman, John M. "Newman Reader - Idea of a University - Discourse 7." Newman Reader - Works of John Henry Newman. 2007. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/discourse7.html.

    2     Fuller, Buckminster. "R. Buckminster Fuller Quotes - Page 3 - BrainyQuote." Famous Quotes at BrainyQuote. 2001. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/r_buckminster_fuller_3.html

    3     Costa, A., and B. Kallick. "What Are the Habits of Mind? | Institute For Habits of Mind." Welcome to the Institute for Habits of Mind | Institute For Habits of Mind. 2000. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. http://www.instituteforhabitsofmind.com/what-are-habits-mind.

    4     Caplow, Theodore. "Middletown Families: Fifty Years of ..." Google Books. 26 Nov. 1981. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. http://books.google.com/books?id=EiPaPX2VtsgC&pg=PR5&lpg=PR5&dq=middletown+velocity+of+change+lynd&source=bl&ots=z7G12PnM4d&sig=VoQYuLlBPIgxOLaG57-Njd5I8EE&hl=en&ei=0QljTdv9EcK78gbvyIX0Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=mid

    5    Kurzweil, Ray. "The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil." US Book Shop and Online Bookstore - Penguin Group (USA). Web. 21 Feb. 2011. http://us.penguingroup.com/static/packages/us/kurzweil/excerpts/chap6/ch6botframe.htm

    6     Gaudin. "Watson Triumphs in Jeopardy's Man vs. Machine Challenge - Computerworld."Computerworld - IT News, Features, Blogs, Tech Reviews, Career Advice. 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9209938/Watson_triumphs_in_em_Jeopardy_em_s_man_vs._machine_challenge.

    7     Greenemeier, Larry. "Meet Adam and Eve: AI Lab-Bots That Can Take On Reams of Data: Scientific American." Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American. 2 Apr. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=robots-adam-and-eve-ai.

    8     Van De Walle, John A. "21/Technology and Elementary School Mathematics." Elementary School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally. New York: Longman, 1990. 436. Print.

    9     Fein, Dr. Louis. Rootcurriculumlouisfein001. Berkeley, CA: Dr. Louis Fein, Consultant, Synnoetic Systems, 1967. PDF.

    10     Healy, Jane M. Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990. 86. Print.

    11     Smith, Rick. "11/Lesson Design." Conscious Classroom Management: Unlocking the Secrets of Great Teaching. San Rafael, CA: Conscious Teaching Publications, 2004. 148. Print.

    12     McDonough, Jen. "About Daily 5." TheDailyCafe.com. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. http://www.thedailycafe.com/public/department38.cfm

    13     Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean, 1995. 332-33. Print.

    14    Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean, 1995. 333. Print.

    15    Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean, 1995. 135. Print.

    16    Van De Walle, John A. "4/Developing Problem-Solving Processes." Elementary School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally. New York: Longman, 1990. 44. Print.

    17     Van De Walle, John A. "4/Developing Problem-Solving Processes." Elementary School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally. New York: Longman, 1990. 45. Print.

    18     "About Responsive Classroom | Responsive Classroom." Home | Responsive Classroom. Northeast Children's Foundation for Children, Inc., 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/about-responsive-classroom

    19     Weismann / President, Director and Co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, Max. "General Education Versus Vocational Training." Message to the author. 28 Feb. 2011. E-mail.